April 11th, 2022Don’t sell The Rex – group’s call to council
A PUBLIC meeting held by organisation Rethink The Rex, has resulted in a call for Hepburn Shire Council to “rescind the motion to sell The Rex and release the Crowe Haworth auditor’s report”.
Macedon MP and Minister for Regional Development Mary-Anne Thomas and Minister for Local Government Shaun Leane have been asked to release the Local Government Inspectorate report on the building’s recent history.
Mayor Cr Tim Drylie told The Local last Thursday that, in accordance with the Local Government Act, the motion to cease the Hepburn Hub project and sell The Rex building could not be rescinded “as officers have commenced actioning it”.
Group spokesperson Jules McDonald said the meeting, held on April 5, saw 120 people at the Daylesford Town Hall with another 126 watching via streaming.
“The meeting focused on providing information to give people an understanding of the story behind the long and sad saga of The Rex, the difficulties experienced in finding the information and the emerging picture of the appalling mismanagement of the project dating from the purchase in 2016 and finally resulted in an abrupt decision to sell the building in November 2021,” Ms McDonald said.
“Whilst not providing solutions, the meeting presented many positive ideas about alternatives to continuing with the plan to accommodate council staff in the currently uninhabitable, water-compromised concrete base within the basement of the building. It was suggested that a cheaper alternative would be to utilise this space as a two-level car park which could then be built above either as a library or accommodation or even a boutique hotel with entry from Duke Street. This would leave options for community use such as the cinema, social enterprise café and hospitality training space and a Made In Daylesford shop.
“Many positive ideas were introduced. Tammi Jonas, a local regenerative and agroecological farmer and key organiser for the Hepburn Food Hub, was excited about the possibility of a physical food hub in Daylesford offering producers much- needed facilities for processing and distribution, and a collectively managed resource to improve locals’ access to local food.
“(And) local artist Kristeena Saville encouraged us to imagine young and old coming together in a central space, where artisans and artists are encouraged to express and share. A connective space with a theatre and a food hub for youth training with locally produced and made goods, served on locally made ceramics – where workshops are held, ideas shared, and skills exchanged. Just think …visitors could experience a vast amount of local talent that is normally hidden away due to the prohibitive costs associated with exposure in one of the most prominent buildings in the area.”
Ms McDonald said Mary Crooks, executive director of the Victorian Women’s Trust gave an inspirational talk emphasising the importance of retaining the history and culture of the town which often resides in iconic buildings such as The Rex. Ms Crooks outlined ways of developing community projects using social capital such as community owned or social enterprise models.
Meanwhile Daylesford Community Theatre president Gina Lyons described The Rex as an iconic building in the heart of the town. Ms Lyons told the meeting while the Hepburn Hub at The Rex project may have been costly to complete, the finished result would have provided an asset for the next 50-60 years and beyond. She said if the council walked away and sold the building now, they were “simply locking in a cash loss in the vicinity of $5 million with nothing to show for it”.
Ms McDonald said the meeting called on those attending to get involved and express their views by phone or email to local councillors, newspapers and social media. It also called on the council to conduct a comprehensive community engagement process and “not to engage in a tokenistic tick-a-box process”.
“The Rethink The Rex group plans to arrange community meetings to explore some of the ideas expressed further, especially the use of social capital in community-owned or social enterprise projects.”
Cr Drylie said in November 2021, the council voted to not proceed with final construction works of the Hepburn Hub at The Rex project, and instead sell the historic building.
“Council purchased the building in 2016 and the project has had a difficult history. The project is subject to a Local Government Inspectorate (LGI) investigation after council self-reported and we are awaiting the final report. The LGI report is independent of council, and we are as frustrated as the community with the delay of its release.
“Council initiated its own independent audit of the project prior to the LGI investigation, and these findings are not able to be made public due to it being a key report being considered by the LGI as part of their review.
“We are required to undertake community consultation for the sale of any council building, and we are committed to the community engagement process on The Rex sale which will commence shortly. We will consider all feedback received from the community and council will make a final determination at a future council meeting.”
Local Government Inspectorate chief municipal inspector Michael Stefanovic said the inspectorate was finalising its report into Hepburn Shire Council.
“We won’t make any further comment at this time.”
Asked for any comment on the meeting and its outcomes, Macedon MP Mary-Anne Thomas told The Local that the Local Government Inspectorate was an independent integrity body responsible for examining and investigating potential breaches of the Local Government Act 2020.
Words & images: Donna Kelly